Science News

Tongue to Talk About

Sun, 11th Feb 2007

Part of the show Nuclear Power

Scientists have found the animal with the world's most powerful tongue. It's not a whale, an elephant or even a cow, it's the giant palm salamander, Bolitoglossa dofleini, which lives on the forest floors of Central America and whose tongue packs an 18 kilowatt per kilogram punch. This is twice the power of the existing holder of the tongue title, a Colorado river toad called Bufo alvarius. Stephen Deban, from the University of South Florida, made high-speed video recordings of the animals' tongues in action, but these revealed that their tongues flicked out far faster than could be achieved by muscle contraction alone. To find out what was going on the team attached electrodes to the tongue and recorded the muscle cells' electrical firing pattern. Surprisingly they found that the tongue muscles contract for far longer (over 100 times longer) than the duration of muscle cell activity. This suggests that the tongue must be storing up energy. Deban thinks that lengths of collagen wound around the muscles are acting like a stretched elastic band. When released these collagen fibres snap back on themselves, just as a bow string fires an arrow, suggests Deban.


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